Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I'm Not Irish, But You Can Kiss Me Anyway!


This Saturday is St. Patricks Day, which pretty much gives you free reign to wear anything green, drink anything green and eat anything green.  To be honest, I expected St. Patricks Day to be a much bigger deal in the UK than it is in North America, but since moving here I've discovered it's the other way around - especially in the US.  Step into any American shopping mall and almost every store is decked out with green shamrocks and creepy looking Leprechauns, but not in the UK.  Don't get me wrong, they do sell the odd bit of tacky green paraphernalia here, but there's not an entire aisle devoted to it like in the US.  But the one green thing that I've heard is pretty plentiful on both continents is green beer.  Perhaps it's just because of the tension and history between Ireland and the rest of the UK (which I'll admit right now, I really don't know that much about), but in reality it's probably just because Americans love their holidays, and corporate America loves marketing them!  And you know what?  I love the fact that it's like that.  I like the fact that any excuse for a holiday also provides you with the excuse to make loads of fun crafts, special themed desserts, and dress like a total dork if you want to.

When I was a kid one of my favourite things to eat during the first couple weeks of March was the green mint milk shake from Mc Donald's that was oh so cleverly named "The Shamrock Shake."  We don't have the Shamrock Shake in the UK (and I very much doubt they have it in Ireland), but I had one last year when we were visiting Texas and it was still as creamy and minty as I remember them to be.  So when I thought about what I could make to celebrate St. Patricks day my first thought was a recreation of the Shamrock shake, but then I thought of something even better!  A St. Patricks Day Baked Alaska!  It's like Ireland and America collided to create this fantastic dessert!  


I had actually planned on making 2 versions of my baked Alaska, but that proved more difficult than I had anticipated thanks to the poor selection of ice cream available here.  I can't tell you how many stores I went to searching for "just the right" chocolate chip mint ice cream, only to come away with plain old vanilla.  You see, there's very few varieties of ice cream (or anything really) compared to the selection in the US (if you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I have a few issues with the lack of selection in the UK).  I managed to find a few different brands that made their own version of chocolate chip mint ice cream, but most either had no colouring (UK manufactures really steer clear of artificial colours and flavourings), or were green with chocolate fudge swirls, which wouldn't work either for reasons I'll explain below.  

In the end I decided to make my own chocolate chip mint ice cream, but since I didn't have the time or ingredients to make it from scratch, I just made it using a good quality vanilla ice cream.  Making your own chocolate chip mint ice cream is really easy - you'll just need to add some green food colouring, mint extract and mini chocolate chips to some softened vanilla ice cream.


I had also planned on making an Irish Cream version of my Baked Alaska, but only a few grocery stores sell the Bailey's Irish Cream Haagen Daz ice cream, and I couldn't find it in stock at any of them.  Needless to say, I was really pleased with the way my chocolate chip mint mini Baked Alaska's turned out.  The chocolate chip mint ice cream tasted exactly the way I wanted it to (just like a Shamrock Shake!), and the marshmallowy Italian meringue top was so light and fluffy!  I can't quite believe how good these were, and how easy they were to make!


Individual Chocolate Chip Mint Baked Alaska's
(serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 tray of Brownies (from scratch or a box, it doesn't matter)

Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream or
6 Vanilla Ice Cream, plus mint extract, green food colouring & mini chocolate chips

2 Egg Whites (Large)
5oz (145g) Sugar 
2 3/4 tsp (40ml) Water

Instructions:

1.  Line a baking pan with greased foil, and prepare and bake your brownies according to your favourite recipe, or the instructions on the box.  I just used a boxed mix because I was short on time.  Cool and set aside.

2.  Soften your ice cream to soft serve consistency.  If you're making your own chocolate chip mint ice cream, put 6 large scoops of vanilla ice cream into a bowl and let soften until you can stir it (soft serve consistency).  Once softened, add 3-4 drops of mint extract, a few squirts of green colouring and a 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips and stir until well combined.  Give it a taste, and if you feel like adding more flavouring, colouring or chocolate chips, then now's the time to do so. Spoon your ice cream into 4 silicone baking cups and put them in the freezer for a few hours to firm up. 

3.  Using a round cookie cutter the same diameter as the widest part of your silicone baking cup, cut out 4 rounds from your tray of brownies. What you do with the rest of the brownies is up to you - I won't tell!  After your ice cream cups are frozen solid, peel back the silicone baking cups and pop out the ice cream.  Place the ice cream cups on top of your brownie rounds, and put them back in the freezer while you prepare your meringue.


4.  Pre-heat your oven to 450ºF (225ºC).  Place the sugar and water in a small sauce pan, give it a few stirs and then boil until the mixture reaches 240ºF (116ºC) also known as soft ball stage.  While the sugar is cooking, start whipping the egg whites in en electric mixer.  They should be at soft peak stage by the time your sugar reaches soft ball stage. Once your sugar has reached soft ball stage, turn the mixer to low speed and slowly pour the sugar into the egg whites in a slow stream. Once all of the sugar mixture has been added, turn the mixer back on to high speed and whip until the meringue has reached stiff peak stage.  They should be  shiny, and the bottom of the bowl should be no longer be hot. 

5.  Take your individual ice cream & brownie things (what would you call these?) out of the freezer, put them on a foil lined baking sheet and cover with your Italian meringue.  You can do this 2 ways: either spoon the meringue overtop of the ice cream and smooth it out with the back of a spoon or small spatula, or use a piping bag and pipe the meringues all around the ice cream and brownie.  Whichever method you choose, just make sure to fully cover the ice cream with meringue so that it's fully insulated in the oven.  Bake in the oven for 4-6 minutes until the meringues are nice and golden brown.  Serve immediately, and enjoy!


**  These individual baked Alaska's keep in the freezer uncovered for up to 5 days.  Simply take them out of them freezer and bake as instructed above.  This makes them perfect to prepare ahead for a dinner party!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Caramel Apple Cream Cheese Crackle Cake (or Pie?)


Do you like cake?  Do you like pie?  I like both, and if you do too then you'll like this cake (or pie - or whatever you want to call it).  I've had the idea for this cake (I'm calling it a cake) for a few months now, but only just got around to making it last week.  It turned out slightly different than I had imagined it would, and in the end the line between cake and pie was slightly blurred.  It's tall like a cake, but has a crust like a pie, and is super ooey gooey inside!


I've been on a bit of a caramel apple kick lately which is kinda weird because I usually only think about caramel apple combinations in the fall, and it's practically Easter! 

I whipped up my latest creation imagining the end result as something slightly different than what it actually turned out to be like, but needless to say I was pretty pleased with the results.  

My cake has a solid crunchy cookie type crust on the bottom and has a layer of cinnamon apples and then a creamy gooey dulce de leche caramel filling. Yum!  But beware!  This cake is sweet.  It's super duper sweet, so don't cut your slices too big. 


Caramel Apple Cream Cheese Crackle Cake


Cookie Crust

2 Cups (250g) Flour 
1 1/2 (335g) Cups Sugar 
2 tsp Baking Powder 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 tsp salt 
1 egg 
1/2 Cup (114g) Butter, melted 
2 Tbs Milk  

1.  Grease a 9 inch round Spring Form pan.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.  Next, add in the egg, melted butter, and milk. Using a spoon or an electric fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients together until it forms a dough.  

2.  Press the dough evenly in the bottom of the Spring Form pan, and set aside.  



Apple Layer 

4 Cups Apples, sliced
1 Cup (225g) sugar 
7oz (200ml) Water 
3 - 4 Tbsp Corn Startch 
1 tsp Cinnamon 
1/4 tsp Nutmeg 
1/4 tsp Salt  

1.  Combine the water sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a large heavy pot, and and bring to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly - the sauce should become slightly thickened.  Add in the apples, cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Cool and set aside.   



Dulce de Leche Caramel Layer 

8 oz (225g) Cream Cheese, softened 
1 cup (250ml) Dulce de Leche 
3 Eggs 
1/2 Cup (114g) Butter, melted 
3.5 Cups (450g) Icing Sugar  

1.  Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC).  In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and Dulce de Leche together until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter and beat together.   

2.  To assemble the cake, layer the apples on top of the cookie base so that it's completely covered.  

3.  Gently spoon the dulce de leche mixture over the top of the apples until you've used all of the mixture.  *If you pour the mixture directly from the bowl onto the apples the pressure of the mixture may shift your apples all over the place so they're no longer evenly covering the crust.  Bake the cake uncovered for about 45 mins, or until it starts to brown, then cover with foil and bake for an additional 30 - 45 minutes or until the center is slightly giggly, but not runny.  Once done, cool in the fridge overnight before serving.


So what do you think? Is this a cake?  Or a pie?
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